Le Boreal Travel Journal - Boston to Montreal 10-Day Cruise

Ponant Cruise' Le Boreal cruise ship
Linda Garrison

Le Boreal is a sleek, stylish, yacht-like cruise ship that sails fascinating itineraries ranging from the Arctic to the Antarctic, with hundreds of ports of call in-between. Le Boreal is one of five ships owned by Ponant. Although the ship's primary language is French, all the cruises are bilingual, so English-speaking guests who enjoy small ships, unique itineraries, and an onboard French ambiance should love sailing on Le Boreal.

I sailed a 10-day cruise from Boston to Montreal on Le Boreal in late September. Like most New England/Atlantic Canada cruises, this itinerary included stopovers in Bar Harbor, Maine; Halifax, Nova Scotia; and Quebec City, Quebec. However, we also spent marvelous days in quieter ports that are seldom visited by small cruise ships and are almost inaccessible to large ships due to their small size and lack of docking facilities. It's these off-the-beaten-path locales that make a cruise on Le Boreal special.

01 of 15

Overview of Ponant Cruise on Le Boreal

Iles de la Madeleine, Canada
Linda Garrison

I boarded Le Boreal in the late afternoon in Boston, where the ship was docked next to the Crystal Symphony. Although the Crystal Symphony is a mid-sized ship with about 1,000 passengers, the ship looked huge docked next to the 264-passenger Le Boreal. Like on most small ships, boarding was easy and very quick. Before I knew it, I was in my cabin, and the luggage arrived soon after. As I expected, my Le Boreal cabin was really lovely--very contemporary, with lots of taupe and splashes of bright red. Since it's French, I guess you could say it was tres chic! For example, the closet doors in the cabin had white leather padding on the outside, which matched the same on the drawers and the stool that sat in front of the vanity. The bath was split, with the toilet in one room and the shower/sink in another. I loved the decor and layout of this cabin, although it was a little smaller than balcony cabins on other ships.

I was unpacked and settled into the cabin by the time we had the mandatory lifeboat drill. The drill was in the theater and most of the passengers seemed to be French. I found out later that our cruise had about 20 English-speaking and almost 200 French. Before I knew it, dinner was served. Dinner was very nice, as I expected on a French cruise ship. We had a choice of two kinds of soup (spinach cream or consomme), three appetizers/salads (I got the goat cheese salad), two main courses (halibut or steak), and a couple of desserts or cheese tray. (I got chocolate ice cream). Nice way to start the cruise, and we adjourned to the bar for a nightcap after dinner.

Le Boreal had sailed for Bar Harbor during dinner. Our adventure had begun!

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02 of 15

Day 2 - Bar Harbor, Maine and the Acadians

View from the top of Cadillac Mountain at Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine
Cadillac Mountain in Bar Harbor (c) Linda Garrison

Le Boreal was not arriving in Bar Harbor until the late morning, so I had a leisurely breakfast in the main restaurant.

I walked around Le Boreal and took photos for a while before going to a lecture on Acadia in the main lounge. The ship did a good job of catering to both the English and French speaking guests. We had two expert bilingual lecturers--a historian and a naturalist. One would give a presentation to the 200+ members of the French group in the theater while the other was speaking to the 15-20 of us in the lounge. Then, they would reverse. I found out later that some cruises have about half French and half English guests. Ours was more lopsided than what usually occurs.


It's always interesting to hear a different perspective of history. I didn't know much (or had forgotten) about how awful the Acadians were treated by the British when France lost almost all her lands in North America in the mid-1700's. About 14,500 were deported by force, with the British burning all their homes, churches, and crops. Families were split up and sent away on different ships to lessen the ability to reunite. (Apparently, Acadians were well-known for their love of isolation and their solidarity as a group.) Ships went from Acadia (now primarily Atlantic Canada province of Nova Scotia) to all the American colonies. An additional 2,500 went from Ile St. Jean (now Prince Edward Island) back to France. Some escaped and went to Louisiana, Grenada, and the Falklands. Genetic research has shown that "Acadian" blood is all over North America, the French islands of the Caribbean and French Guiana in South America, the Falklands, and France. The Acadian flag is the French tri-color with a yellow star in the upper left corner. The flag demonstrates the ties to France and the star is the symbol of Virgin Mary, the patron to mariners and Acadians.

Historian Sophie also talked about how the Norwegian Vikings were the first Europeans to "find" North America, exploring here and naming Newfoundland "Vinland" (land of meadows) during the years 1000-1015. The Vikings came to North America from Greenland but didn't settle here. They were looking for wood (no wood in Greenland) to make boats, use for firewood, and construct homes.

The English and French began coming to the area in the late 15th century. John Cabot was the first British explorer, arriving in 1497, followed by Giovanni de Verrazano in 1524, who was exploring for France (despite his Italian name). Guess it is like Christopher Columbus being financed by Spain although he was Italian. Verrazano named the region Acadia for the region in Greece named Arcadia, and at some point, the "r" got dropped. Jacques Cartier made three voyages from France to Acadia (about 1534), exploring Ile St. Jean (Prince Edward Island) and the St. Lawrence River.

Samuel Champlain built the first settlement in Acadia at Port Royal (now in Nova Scotia) in 1605. He also explored the Bay of Fundy and parts of Quebec. Many of his men died from scurvy. The French and British continued to fight over the region. Acadia was like a ping pong ball, switching back and forth. In 1667 the Treaty of Breda gave Acadia back to France, but by 1689 the English were back in command, threatening to expel all the Acadians from the region since although they would sign "loyalty oaths" to England, they never stuck to them. Cornwallis started planning the expulsion in 1749, and after the Seven Year War (also called the French and Indian War) in 1755, the new British Governor Charles Lawrence made the decision to deport them.

The British soldiers divided families into different boats and burned all the homes and other buildings, along with the crops to discourage a return. Ships were sent to many different locations, and by 1763 France had lost all her North American colonies except the Magdalen Islands and Havre St. Pierre. The name Acadia disappeared since even if the Acadians returned, they could never get back their lands.

The Atlantic region saw many new immigrants from 1763 to 1864, with over 30,000 who were loyal to the King leaving the new USA and moving to New Scotland (Nova Scotia). Nova Scotia became more and more English and also more Protestant. Ile St. Jean was also settled by more British, and the name was changed to Prince Edward Island in 1799.

The years 1864-1873 was the evolution of Canada. The Charlottetown Conference set up the Union of Maritime Provinces in Sept. 1864, followed by the North American Act of July 1, 1867, which set up the Canadian Federation.

History can be pretty interesting, especially when you are "there".

Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park

Le Boreal arrived in Bar Harbor, Maine about 10:30 am, and the tenders started going ashore at 11 am. I was doing a tour at 12:45, so stayed on the ship until then. Took my Kindle to lunch and had a nice salad, along with a little shrimp and some stew from the French buffet.

Our tour group rode the 12:45 tender ashore, and I was surprised to learn that I was the only non-French person on the tour. The shore excursion staff told me to sit on the second seat behind the American guide because he would speak in English and then one of their bilingual staff would translate into French and speak into a microphone. Surprisingly, it worked very well, and I felt like I had a private guide.

We drove through the small town of Bar Harbor into Acadia National Park, which was the first National Park east of the Mississippi River. It was established on Mt. Desert Island in 1919, mostly from land donated by the wealthy patrons who owned summer "cottages" here (the Rockefellers, etc.). I think it was kind of like Jekyll Island North. Acadia is one of the smallest national parks but does still have an endowment that helps maintain the carriage roads once (and still) used by the rich to travel about the island. I've always called it Mt. Desert Island (pronounced like the Sahara Desert), but learned on the shore excursion that explorer Samuel Champlain named it Ile de Desert in 1604, and it's pronounced "dessert".

We had two guides, who were both American. Mike was an ornithologist who routinely leads birdwatching and nature tours of the area. Wendy is a librarian by day and amateur botanist in the summers and on weekends. We first stopped at Sand Beach, noting that the sand is mostly ground up mussel shells--very coarse. The water looked frigid, but two kids were swimming and playing in the waves. Leaving the beach, we walked for about two miles along the coastline, with Mike pointing out many migrating birds who were all moving south. The path was fairly easy to walk on but was right next to the road, so the only thing we saw that those who were driving probably missed was an eagle. It was a lovely day, and the walk was easy and helped us walk off our lunch.

We reboarded the bus and rode to the top of Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain in Acadia National Park. It was a gorgeous day, in the low 60's with bright sunshine. From the top of the mountain, we could even see Mt. Katahdin, which is over 100 miles away. Mike pointed out two other peaks in the far distance that are 130 miles away.

The bus returned us to the tender by 4:30, and I went down and had a spot of tea before getting ready for the Captain's reception and gala dinner. The ship sailed for Halifax at 5 pm.

Most of the guests had dressed up a little for the reception, with many men wearing coats and ties. Some women were dressed in sequins, but it was mostly elegant casual wear. I was surprised to learn that the Captain was one of the founders of the company (Ponant) in 1988, and has been a Captain for over 20 years. Although the company was sold to the CMA CGM Group in 2004, he must have been a real hands-on owner.

The Captain's dinner was excellent--a "set meal" with five courses. The menu started out with a chunky gazpacho amuse, followed by a scallop appetizer, a small dish of hot Maine lobster, and filet steak for the main course. Dessert was a delicious chocolate concoction with a nice sauce on the side.

After dinner, I went to the 10 pm show, which featured the five dancers (four girls, one guy), and a female singer. The show featured dances from around the world, and I really enjoyed it. The theater was small, more like a cabaret, so I was very impressed with how much dancing these five dancers could do on the small stage.

The next day we would be in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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03 of 15

Day 3 - Halifax, Nova Scotia

This historic lighthouse greets ships to Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Halifax (c) Linda Garrison

Le Boreal wasn't arriving in Halifax until after lunch, so we had another leisurely morning on the ship. After breakfast, I sat in on the English lecture on whales by the naturalist Jose. Like the historian Sophie, his passion for his topic was contagious, and it made me excited about the possibility of seeing whales in the St. Lawrence seaway. While we were listening to the naturalist in English, the French group were hearing Sophie's presentation on Acadia in the theater.

I had lunch in the main dining room of Le Boreal. It was Italian day (they featured a different cuisine each day at lunch), and I loved the salad and lasagna. Dessert was good too--a yummy raspberry tart. It's not surprising that the French know how to make pastries, is it? One thing I noticed about the ship was the lack of announcements. It certainly adds to the yacht-like atmosphere!

We arrived in Halifax before 2 pm, and we all had to clear customs by picking up our passports, speak to an official who stamped our passport and return it to the ship. Took a little while since some people didn't go down to the lounge until their names and cabin numbers were announced, despite three or four announcements in French and English, plus it was printed in the daily newsletter. The announcements were all the more annoying since the ship has so few.

Ships dock at a lovely spot in Halifax, and I wished I had time to wander around the pier area. Pier 21 is Canada's equivalent of Ellis Island, and 1.5 million immigrants entered Canada through this port from 1928 to 1971. Halifax boasts the world's largest continuous downtown boardwalk, which stretches for 4 km (about 2 miles) from Pier 21 to Purdy's Wharf. It looks quite nice, with many shops, bars, and restaurants. The Crystal Symphony and Silver Whisper were also in port, meaning about 1,500 cruise passengers were in Halifax that day. Some days Halifax has four large ships in port with over 10,000 passengers! Glad we were there on a light day.

Halifax is best known to me as the site where the bodies of the Titanic passengers were taken after its sinking in April 1912. There's also a memorial near Peggy's Cove remembering the 229 Swissair passengers and crew who died when their plane from New York to Geneva caught on fire and crashed in 1998. As the North American port closest to Europe, the city played important roles in both World Wars, and I remember how many USA planes were grounded there after September 11, 2001.

The largest man-made, non-nuclear explosion ever recorded occurred in Halifax during World War I on December 6, 1917. Two ships ran into each other in the narrow harbor (which is also the world's second deepest next to Sydney), setting one on fire. Many townspeople stood on the banks watching the scene, and others peered at the site through the windows of their schools, homes, or businesses. What residents didn't know was that one of the ships was an unmarked French ammunition carrier the SS Mont Blanc on its way to Europe. The other was a war relief ship, with no cargo. Soon after the accident occurred, the ammunition ship exploded and 2000 were killed and another 9000 seriously injured. All buildings for 500 acres surrounding the harbor were destroyed, and the explosion even triggered a tsunami in the harbor. Remnants of the ship were found miles away (a part of the anchor weighing 1000 pounds was found 5 miles away). People heard the explosion 100 miles away. Although it was winter, America immediately sent a train full of aid workers, who stayed for weeks helping with the relief effort and cementing the bond between Canada and the USA.

Le Boreal had two shore excursions in Halifax. One was a city tour of Halifax that visited many of the historic sites in the city, along with the Public Garden and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. I took the second tour, which was a half-day tour to picturesque Peggy's Cove.

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04 of 15

Day 3 - Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia

Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia
Peggy's Cove (c) Linda Garrison

We boarded the bus for the Le Boreal shore excursion to famous Peggy's Cove about 2:45. We had two buses on the excursion, and they put the six English-speaking guests on one of those large accordion buses. We sat in the back of the accordion and listened to the English guide while the French had a microphoned-guide in the front. Our guide Lynn was a retired nurse from Halifax who worked for the tour operators as a fun job. She was very good and kept us entertained with information about the region as we drove through Halifax and on the hour's drive to Peggy's Cove.

Peggy's Cove has less than 75 inhabitants but is visited by thousands each year since it is one of the best-known fishing villages in the world. The town was built on granite bedrock, so it doesn't have much soil for growing anything. It is a charming place, and marvelous for photographers and artists. Peggy's Cove sits at the mouth of Margaret's Bay. According to the legend, a young woman named Margaret was rescued from a shipwreck, settled in the area, and married one of her rescuers.

Many visitors to Peggy's Cove sit on the benches just watching the sea or the lighthouse. The village has a few art galleries and shops, but you can see the whole village in about an hour. We stayed an hour and a half. I took a bunch of photos, ate a delicious lemon ginger ice cream cone, and browsed a little in the shops, even buying a refrigerator magnet. Although we thought it might rain, the sun came out as we approached Peggy's Cove, so I left my raincoat on the bus.

I had dinner at the casual buffet at the Grill Restaurant. It was another good meal, but I think I prefer being waited on in the main restaurant. As with most nights, the evening entertainment included live piano music in both the main lounge and the panoramic lounge. This evening we also had a piano concert in the theater.

Le Boreal would be in Louisbourg, Nova Scotia the next day.

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05 of 15

Day 4 - Louisbourg, Nova Scotia

The barracks building in historic old town Louisbourg, Nova Scotia
Louisbourg, Nova Scotia (c) Linda Garrison

The next morning Le Boreal was at sea on the way from Halifax to Louisbourg. The ship only has a maximum speed of 15 knots, less than bigger ships. I liked not having to be up early every morning; it seems very civilized.

I ate a light breakfast and attended Sophie's talk on Samuel Champlain, who was the famous French explorer responsible for much of the settlement of Quebec. Lake Champlain in New York state is also named for him.

The theme for lunch was Canadian cuisine, and we had crab legs along with other seafood. Unfortunately, I was on a 12:45 pm tour, so had to eat rather quickly. We took a tender to shore in Louisbourg, Nova Scotia, followed by a short bus ride to the Louisbourg Fortress. When we arrived at the fortress, they gave us the Audiovox machines and divided us into two groups--English (about 14 of us, which was almost all the Americans/British) and French (the rest). Nice to have such a small tour group.

The French built the fortress and town on this site in 1713. It was partially destroyed when the British took over Nova Scotia in the late 1750's but was at its height in 1744. The site was abandoned and left in ruins before it became a Canadian national park in 1928. Most of the reconstruction was done starting in the 1960's, and today about 20 percent of the town has been reconstructed, making it the "largest reconstructed 18th-century town in North America", according to the brochure. The ruins of the rest of the town are still there, and archaeologists continue to work at the site.

The Louisbourg tour guide was quite good, and the reconstruction excellent. She walked around with us for about an hour and then gave us about 1.5-hours' free time. We toured the homes of the governor, his adjutant (second in command), and the engineer (third in command). Workers in costumes provided commentary about life in Louisbourg. It was especially harsh since the weather is so bad and summer is very short. However, everyone had plenty to eat because the cod fishing was excellent. The soldiers were almost in slavery since they usually were borrowing against future wages.

We also toured several other buildings and watched the re-creation of a public punishment of a man who had stolen an ounce of cognac. The soldier's barracks were particularly impressive. Three men were assigned to each bed, with one sleeping and the other two on duty or out of the sleeping area. There was also a chapel in the barracks, which was only open to women on Sundays. The barracks were never open to women except on Sunday morning for services. They gave a demonstration of musket shooting, and we walked around and had a cup of hot chocolate to take off the chill. There was a light rain, and I was glad I had my raincoat but never needed the umbrella.

After the tour, we took the bus shuttle back to the tender. It was only 4 pm, so I walked into town and found a post office to mail my postcards. I also found what I think was the only bar in town and tried the local beer. It was an amber called Alexander Keith. Very tasty. Back on the ship by about 5:10.

I had dinner with the onboard naturalist and historian. The two onboard experts/lecturers are young French people who are very interesting and have a passion for their topics. Sophie has been lecturing on Acadia and Quebec, and Jose (pronounced Jos-A) has his doctorate in marine biology and has loved whales since he was a little boy. The dinner was the best yet -- I had the mushroom soup, which was delightful, the very yummy tuna tartare, duck with a spring roll, and ice cream with caramel for dessert.

After dinner, I went to the show, another performance by the five dancers. It was innovative, but the music was too monotonous for me, with not enough tempo change. The dances were also too much the same. As good as the dancing show was the first night, this one was not to me, although others seemed to enjoy it. Guess that's why they have different shows every night.

I was back to the cabin at 10:30 and ready for bed. The next day the pace picked up. I had two shore excursions scheduled (morning and afternoon) in Iles de la Madeleine, a group of French islands at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River.

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06 of 15

Day 5 - Iles de la Madeleine (Magdalen Islands) - Morning Tour

South Dune Beach on Havre aux Maisons in the Iles de la Madeleine, Quebec
Iles de la Madeleine (c) Linda Garrison

If you've never heard of the Iles de la Madeleine, you're not alone. This archipelago of a dozen islands (only seven inhabited) is located in the middle of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, about 60 miles from Prince Edward Island, 125 miles from the Gaspe peninsula of Quebec, and over 700 miles from Montreal. Six of the islands are connected with long, thin sand dunes, and a single highway--route 199. The whole group is shaped much like a fish hook or a crescent moon.

Although in maritime Canada and the Atlantic Time Zone, the islands are part of the province of Quebec. Jacques Cartier first wrote of the islands in 1534, and Samuel de Champlain put them on a map in 1629 with the name "La Magdeleine". The present name, Iles de la Madeleine was dubbed in 1663 in honor of the wife of the concessionaire of the islands in 1663. For a long time, many English maps showed the islands as the Magdalen Islands, but now all maps show the French name.

Many of today's 13,000 archipelago residents are descended from the Acadians who were exiled from Acadia to places all over the world in 1755. Some escaped the deportation and fled to these islands and others. Over 95 percent of today's residents are French, and the other 5 percent English-speaking (called Anglophones by the French), mostly of Scottish descent. Many Anglophones live in their own small communities and send their children to English schools, which are in a different district than the French ones.

Most Madelinots are involved with maritime-related occupations--either fishing or tourism. In the 1970's the islands had about 5,000 visitors, in 2010 there were over 50,000, mostly in July and August. Tourists and artists come for the 180 miles (300 km) of unspoiled beaches, the unique culture and heritage, and the peace and quiet. Most don't come for the swimming since the water temperature only reaches a maximum of the mid to upper 60's!

The Iles de la Madeleine residents consider their climate a "mild" maritime climate since the seas make the winter weather much warmer than on mainland Quebec. They don't get much snow, but they do get lots of the wind year-round, which makes driving a real challenge in the wintertime since the snow (and even sometimes the waves) can blow over the roads. These constant winds blow from 17 to 40 km/hr (9 to 22 knots) and even stronger in the winter. Surfers, kite boarders, and paragliders flock to the islands for the winds. There are hundreds of summer activities, including a major "sand castle" building contest each August. The area is a photographer's, birder's, and hiker's dream.

Getting to the archipelago is not easy. Only a few cruise ships visit each year, but the government is trying to attract more. Most (about 80 percent) visitors arrive via the 5-hour ferry from Prince Edward Island. Others arrive via plane from Montreal (non-stops in the summer; 2 stops the rest of the year). Both air and ferry costs are high, but just knowing you can occasionally escape makes life more bearable for many Madelinots.

The salt mines are the third largest employer. The islands sit on seven large salt domes, and the one closest to the surface has been mined for road salt for several years. I thought it was interesting that they found the salt domes when drilling for oil.

Some mariners found their way to the islands by accident. Over 400 shipwrecks have been recorded, mostly ships swept ashore by storms. The sailors who survived sometimes made the islands their home.

The French culture of the islands is different than either Quebec or France, which is not surprising given their isolation (until the advent of modern communication methods). The language is more Acadian French, which came from the "Old French" of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The accent even varies from island to island, since each individual island was isolated until the road connected them in the 1950's. For example, instead of rolling their "Rs" like most French speakers, one island has made them completely silent. According to local legend, the reason for this change dates back to the Acadians. The British consistently tried to get the Acadians to pledge their allegiance to the King of England. (King is "Roi" in French). To avoid saying this word, they just dropped the "R" from all pronunciation. Good story, isn't it?

Madelinots fish for lobsters, scallops, snow crab, fish, and shellfish. Lobster is the most important crop. The current lobster season starts the first week of May and runs for about nine weeks until the first week of July. The lobster fishing starts at 5 am on opening day, and it's a race to the favorite lobster spots. Due to over-fishing of many species in the past, the fishermen now work cooperatively with the game and fish experts of the area to control the numbers of lobsters and other fish taken. There are 325 lobster fishermen in the islands, and each can put out less than 300 traps per day. (Starting in 2004 when they could use 300 traps, the fishermen agreed to cut back three traps each year for 10 years to help conserve the population, so in 2011 they could only put out 282. They will re-evaluate when it gets in 2014.) Although each trap can only be put out once each day, a dozen or more lobsters might be in the trap when it is pulled up. They can't keep any lobster whose body is less than 3.25 inches long. Fishermen got $4.78 per pound of lobster in 2011, but only $3.72 per pound the year before. Like many "farmers" who rely heavily on primarily one crop (e.g. the tobacco farmers of the South), they make most of their income during these few short weeks each year. Our tour bus driver was primarily a lobster fisherman but works at other odd jobs the rest of the year.

Le Boreal arrived at the ferry dock at Cap-aux-Meules (Cape of Grindstone) about 7:30 am. The day was perfect--sunny and about 65-70. The wind was as light as it ever gets, although the flags were all blowing out straight. The small village (about 1500 residents) has the same name as the island. The name comes from the small rocks/grindstone in the hill overlooking the port. I had signed up for both a morning and an afternoon tour since I thought it unlikely I would get a chance to return. The morning tour left at 8:30, and I was delighted to see that the English-speakers had our own small bus! Thirteen of us, plus Stephan the driver and an exceptional guide named Susan set off to tour two of the islands--Ile du Havre Aubert and Ile du Havre Aux Maisons.

Susan is originally from Winnipeg and met her husband over 25 years ago at a bilingual camp. She didn't speak any French and he spoke no English. They flirted with each other and found a way to communicate. Like many young people, he had left the islands at age 16 to further his education elsewhere in Canada. (students can now earn college credits on the islands). He didn't plan to return. They married, lived in Japan and elsewhere around the world, returning to the islands 17 years ago to make their home there. She teaches ESL part-time, and he was a journalist who is now the mayor. She said many young people are like her husband; they leave, but return to raise a family.

We left Cap-aux-Meules and drove southwest towards Havre Aubert Island. Much of the road follows the very narrow sand dunes, which are covered in sea grass. Years ago they used to allow camping and hiking on the dunes, but it is now strictly controlled to try and protect them. Road crews have added large rocks to the shoreline along the road to help slow erosion. Havre Aubert is the southern end of the archipelago and is the most forested (it still has very few trees, since most of the forests were cut down years ago to build houses and for firewood and were never replanted). The short growing season keeps the few trees small.

We first stopped at Site d'Autrefois, the home of Claude Bourgeois, who was once captain of the Annick, a lobster fishing boat. In 1990, his boat sank during a storm. He survived but was injured both physically and mentally. He retired from fishing four years later and began constructing a small historical village like that of his grandfather on his land, primarily for therapy. He opened the site in 1998, and he is quite a character. We all enjoyed hearing his stories of life as a lobster fisherman and singing with his guitar. Seeing a 24" x 32" (regulated size) lobster trap up close and learning how the fishermen make these traps (which last about 5-7 years) was fascinating. The biggest lobster even caught was 42 pounds in the Bay of Fundy, and the biggest one in the Iles de la Madeleine was 26 pounds, which was estimated to be about 45-50 years old. Claude's biggest was 10 pounds, but even that size is too big to eat (tough). Most lobsters caught are about 7 years old.

After listening to Claude, we walked around his re-created village, looking at the traditional buildings, filled with antique furniture and farm equipment. Very touching visit since the village seemed to be re-created so lovingly and Claude was so passionate about his life.

We left Claude's after about an hour and made our way to the historical site of La Grave, at the far end of the island near the main village of Havre-Aubert. This site was the first settlement in all the islands and is on a small cape, which is so narrow that all of the buildings are waterfront on either one side of the road or the other. The buildings are brightly colored, and we all thought it a magical place. Unfortunately, the Musee de la Mer (Maritime Museum) at the "end of the road" was closed for renovation, and may not open for another year or so. Things move slowly in these islands, just like in other parts of the world like the Caribbean.

We had free time to visit the shops and do a little beachcombing. Many artists (and others) in these eclectic islands come from all over the world. For example, a Japanese artist came here and stayed, as did a Javanese silk batik artist, a Brazilian oceanographer, and our guide. One of the shops, Artisans du Sable, is part of the Economusee network, where visitors can watch artists at work in a workshop-boutique setting. One of the specialties at this workshop was art made of a "secret" mixture of sand held together with some type of resin substance. The gorgeous pieces look like they would crumble immediately, but are quite heavy and rock-like.

Leaving Havre Aubert, we drove back towards the ship, stopping at a fish smokehouse on Havre Aux Maisons Island. Our guide and her family live on this island, which is between Havre-Aubert and the main island of Cap aux Meules. Susan told us that family units are very important here, and men identify themselves by using their first name followed by their father's first name. For example, her husband is Joel and his father Euclid. So, her husband goes by Joel aux Euclid (aux is "of"). In the phone book, his name is listed as Joel E., although E. is not his middle initial. Sometimes the names go on and on like Joel aux Euclid aux the grandfather's name, etc.

The fish smokehouse was owned by two brothers. Smoked herring used to be a major revenue source for the island, but the herring were overfished, so now the brothers just sell to the local market. They even have to "import" herring from New Brunswick to get enough. We toured one of the smokehouses that was no longer used, seeing old photos and reading how the fish were prepared. We moved to the fish smokehouse, where one of the brothers briefly opened a door for us to see from the outside, but we didn't go into the smoky building where they use maple wood and sawdust to smoke. The fish are soaked in salty brine for 2-3 days, followed by 2-3 months of 24-hr/day in the smokehouse. The final product is similar to beef jerky only harder.

Finally, we saw a short video of workers performing the various steps, had a taste of the two types of smoked herring (dry and in an oily sauce) and had a chance to buy some. I brought some of the herring in the oily sauce home and was very happy that the glass jar made the journey home in my checked luggage without breaking!

Our last stop on the morning tour was at St. Peter's Catholic Church (Saint-Pierre de La Verniere) in Cap aux Meules. This is the second largest wooden church in North America. (The largest is in Nova Scotia.) The church was first built from wood stored in the hold of a boat bound for Europe from North America. It sunk near the island, and the cargo transferred to another ship. That ship also sank not long after leaving the islands. The owners of the cargo decided it was hexed and gave it to the church. Not long after the framework of the church was completed a huge storm blew it to the ground. They "double-blessed" the wood and the site before starting over! The church was opened in 1876 and enlarged in the 1900's. It was classified a Canadian historical monument in 1992 and is still an active church.

The inside of the church was lovely, but the graveyard was mesmerizing, with lots of interesting old gravestones and a marvelous view of the sea. We got back to the ship about 1:15, with just enough time to have a quick bite before the afternoon tour of some more of the Iles de la Madeleine at 2:15.

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07 of 15

Day 5 - Iles de la Madeleine, Quebec - Afternoon Tour

Iles de la Madeleine, Quebec
Iles de la Madeleine (c) Linda Garrison

Our guide Susan and driver Stephan also did the afternoon English tour in the Iles de la Madeleine. We had 14 this time, with about half of us from the morning tour. It was so nice to have such a small tour group, one of the advantages of being in the English-speaking minority on Le Boreal. Whereas the morning tour focused on the history and culture of the archipelago, the afternoon tour was more about the natural beauty and geological heritage. These islands date back over 70,000 years ago and are mainly formed by long sand dunes resulting from the constant erosion of magnificent red sandstone cliffs. We drove for about an hour to the furthest northeast point of the islands at Ile de la Grande Entree, which meant that those of us on both tours had traveled the entire length of the drivable archipelago. We drove across the mostly English island of Ile de Grosse, passing by the salt mine and stopping in Grande-Entree on the island of the same name. Grand Entree is the "lobster capital of Quebec", with 125 lobster fishermen (of the 325 on the island) living there. We had about 30 minutes to look around at the boats, the beach, and the small boutique shops.

Leaving Grande Entree, we stopped at one of the tall cliffs overlooking a lovely beach on the island. It was near the town of Old Harry, which was the site of the walrus hunts of the 17th and 18th centuries. These hunts brought the first Basques to the islands. The huge walruses would pile up on the rocky banks and use their giant tusks to climb the rocks. The walruses were slaughtered for their oil and meat, and by 1799 the whole herd had been destroyed. No walruses exist in the islands today. I couldn't help but wonder if all of the strict lobster fishing regulations are in place because of what happened with the walruses.

The bus took us back along Route 199 to South Dune Beach on Havre aux Maison's island. This sandy beach was easily accessible and was lined with picturesque, dramatic red limestone cliffs. Many of the cliffs had caves carved into them, and you could walk about 20 feet or more. The sea oats lining the dunes were spectacular, and the beach was quiet and perfect for walking. It was weird to have these dunes that look brownish-green from far away. Leaving this beach area, we drove along a gravel road to a lighthouse with a view of nearby Ile d'Entree (Entry Island), which is the only inhabited island not connected to the rest of the island chain. It has 100 residents, mostly of Scottish and Irish heritage.

Our last stop was at Belle Anse on Cap-aux-Meules. It also had wonderful red cliffs and great views. These cliffs have been subject to slides, so we couldn't get too close.

We got back to Le Boreal at 6:30, just in time to clean up a little before drinks and dinner. I had a tomato basil soup, salad, and pasta with veggies and a light tomato sauce. Yummy. A poached pear for dessert was the perfect ending to an excellent meal. The two singers and onboard pianists were the headliners in the cabaret theater, but I was too tired to attend. Others said they did a good job.

We would be in Perce, Quebec the next, and I have an afternoon tour to Bonaventure Island, home of 250,000 gannets.

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08 of 15

Day 6 - Perce, Quebec

Perce, Quebec
Perce (c) Linda Garrison

The next morning I woke up early when I felt the ship shake a little. I got out of bed, peeked out the curtain, and there was the wonderful "pierced" rock formation (trapezoidal with a hole in it) of Perce, Quebec. (pronounced per-say) The sun was shining and we were positioning in the harbor to drop the anchor. It was another gorgeous fall day in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Perce is a small village at the tip of the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec. Although once a fishing community, the town is now primarily a tourist center because of its marvelous Perce Rock and nearby Bonaventure Island, where up to 250,000 gannets (birds) live.

My tour wasn't until after lunch, so I had a nice breakfast and was able to relax and enjoy Le Boreal. I wish the bacon could have been crisper (more well done) at breakfast, but I loved the way they cooked scrambled eggs to order. (I think they must have used butter.) Lunch was a delicious seafood buffet in both restaurants. Live cold water Canadian (Maine) lobsters were used for the buffet table decor. Just a tease for dinner!

Having toured all day the previous day, I didn't take the morning tour, but the English-speaking group all seemed to have really enjoyed it. The tour was a tour of the Perce sights, mostly focusing on the era of the 1930's. The tour went to the top of the mountain (Cote Surprise) that overlooks the town, providing marvelous views of Perce, our ship, Perce Rock, and Bonaventure Island. They also visited a general store, where guides dressed in old-fashioned attire told stories of the store's history, and Pic de L'Aurore and Mount Joli overlooks, which had terrific vistas of the area. The exceptional weather made the tour even better, and I expected it to be perfect for our hike on Bonaventure Island.

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09 of 15

Day 6 - Bonaventure Island near Perce, Quebec

Bonaventure Island near Perce, Quebec
Bonaventure Island (c) Linda Garrison

Our visit to the gannet colony on Bonaventure Island left the ship via tender at 1:15. The sea was really rolling, and I was a little worried for those who are not so steady on their feet. When we reached the dock, we transferred to a sightseeing boat for the 15-minute journey to Bonaventure Island. We hiked over the island (2.6 K, or about 1.5 miles) to the other side where the bird colony is. The hike was on a well-trodden trail but was mostly uphill for the first 3/4 of the distance. The hike was through a forest, so you couldn't see much other than trees and shrubs. They had porta-potties at the beginning, about half-way, and at the colony. It took us about 45 minutes to an hour to make the trek. This hike is not well suited for those who have problems walking or climbing hills.

The colony was as amazing as I remember it from when I had visited several years ago. Only about 60,000-65,000 gannets were on the cliffs (according to the guides) since many had already migrated. However, the cliffside was filled with birds, and we spent about 20 minutes watching them from several viewing stations or behind a fence. The island is crossed by several trails, but we didn't have time to do any exploring, returning the way we came.

We hiked back a little quicker (mostly downhill), arriving at the pier at 4:30 for the ride back to the pier and then back to Le Boreal via tender. They passed out sandwiches/apples/cake/bottled water for us to eat on the return (15-minute) trip. I was back on the ship by 5:15.

After a before dinner drink, we had an excellent lobster dinner, along with soup, salad, and roasted peach for dessert. The dinners have all been very good.

The show was supposed to feature the dancers performing many French dances (including the can-can). However, the rolling seas caused them to postpone the show until the next evening. This suited me fine since my early morning shore excursion in Havre St. Pierre (on the north shore of the mouth of the St. Lawrence River) started at 7:15 am!

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10 of 15

Day 7 - Havre Saint Pierre, Quebec and the Mingan Islands

Rock monoliths on Niapiskau Island of the Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve
Niapiskau Island of the Mingan Archipelago (c) Linda Garrison

The next day Le Boreal was in Havre-Saint-Pierre, Quebec, which is a very small town on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. It is very near the mouth of the river and the Gulf of St. Lawrence, almost due north of the town of Gaspe on the tip of the peninsula on the south bank of the river. Although the village is small, it is the largest town and county seat of the Minganie RCM (like a county) and home to many government, municipal, and regional services.

The first inhabitants of Havre-Saint-Pierre came from the Iles de la Madeleine in the nineteenth century. Six families of fishermen founded the town in 1867. In 1948, many of the fishermen changed their vocation to mining when one of the largest ilmenite (titanium) mines in the world opened. Residents proudly claim that titanium from Havre-Saint-Pierre was first used in the NASA rockets of the 1960s, linking the town to the moon before it was linked to the rest of Canada. The town still seems to be a little reluctant to be a part of Canada. We didn't see any Canadian flags in the town, just those of Quebec and Acadia. Even the street signs of the town feature the Acadian flag. Guess it's a little like those in the Old South who still fly the Confederate flag. I'll have to admit that this trip has given me a new appreciation of why some Quebecois would like to be independent of Canada and the Commonwealth, especially given the way Britain treated their Acadian ancestors.

Today's residents speak a French dialect more similar to Acadian French than to Quebec French. About 30,000 visitors each year make their way to the nearby Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve, over 40 limestone islands of various sizes and 1,000 granite islets sprinkled along 152 km (70+ miles) of coastline. Tour boats from Havre-Saint-Pierre make the short trip (about 15-30 minutes, depending on which islands) to take visitors over to the islands, and the Canadian Park Service has on-site guides who provide tours. A visit to Mingan was the primary reason for our stopover in Havre-Saint-Pierre.

Le Boreal had three tours--a walking tour of the town, a visit to one of the Mingan islands, or a visit to two of the islands. I chose the longer tour, even though the excursion started at 7:15 am.

The day was sunny and calm, perfect for a small boat ride (about 50 of us in 3 groups) to the first island L'ile Niapiskau, which is known for its many limestone monoliths. Our Anglophone group was only seven, spoiling us even more from large tours, and we had an excellent guide. She was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the geology of the island. The monoliths reminded me a little of those I saw at the Hopewell Rocks (also called the flowerpot rocks) of the Bay of Fundy. However, some of the monoliths were inland on the island, which supports the formation of the island rising from the seabed. Great photo opportunity and a local poet (now dead) Roland Jomphe named many of the formations, labeling them because of their shape. These names have stuck--e.g. Madame de Niapiskau, President Nixon, whale, eagle, etc.

We walked around the island for about an hour on the wooden walkways. It was a beautiful, eerie place with all the huge rocks, but most of the trail was a wooden walkway, which made walking easier. Soon it was time to visit another island in the Mingan Archipelago--Quarry Island.

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11 of 15

Day 7 - Havre Saint Pierre, Quebec and Quarry Island

Rock formations on Quarry Island of the Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve
Quarry Island (c) Linda Garrison

After about an hour on Niapiskau Island, we took a short ride to our second island, L'ile Quarry. (Quarry Island) It has this name for one of two reasons--either for the small limestone rocks all over the island that resemble those from a quarry or for the French word for hunting blind, which is similar. On the way, we could see Anticosti Island in the distance, the large island at the center of the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. It's amazing just how big this Gulf is! Anticosti was bought by a rich man in the late 1800's as a hunting preserve, and he stocked it with deer, moose, and other game animals. Unfortunately, he didn't stock any predators, and so the deer ate all the plants (except for some evergreens). Today over 250,000 deer are on the island, and they have extensive hunting season to keep them from dying of starvation.

Ile Quarry is a little larger than its neighboring island Ile Niapiskau and is home to five distinct habitats. Before our walk, we had a nice snack consisting of sandwiches, cake, fruit, and cheese, along with water, coffee or juice. After the snack, we toured the island for almost 2 hours with another enthusiastic guide who was an ecologist/botanist. She was excellent, and as we walked through the areas, she did a nice explanation--not too much information as many do. We walked through the (1) forest, (2) bog or fen (3) barren (4) cliffs and (5) shore, noting the differences in the plant life. It was low tide, so we walked along the beach rather than on the trail in some parts. This island also had limestone monoliths, some with green growth on the tops, resulting in their being called Pot de fleurs (flowerpot) monoliths. Also saw insect-eating pitcher plants in the bog and a lot of trees draped with old man's beard like I saw in Alaska. The presence of this plant that looks much like Spanish moss is only possible when the air is very clean with no pollution.

On the way back to the ship, we walked along the shoreline to the ship. I suddenly saw a dog running out onto the dock towards our ship. When I asked the guide who brought their dog along, she said pets weren't allowed, but quickly also saw the "dog", which was actually a red fox. These animals do live on the islands, eating berries and small voles. This one was completely unafraid of man and sat on the dock posing for photos. His fur was quite thick and he looked very healthy, so I don't think he was starving, although I was a little worried about rabies, given his odd demeanor. This sighting was a terrific ending for our fascinating morning.

We boarded the boats about 11:45 and were back at the ship by 12:15. We didn't have to be back on board, so walked around the small town, which took all of 20 minutes.

Lunch was a Mediterranean buffet--very good. We sailed at 2 pm, leaving the Gulf of St. Lawrence and moving up the river. We sailed all afternoon, and I used the time to sort through some photos. Most of the time, the river bank was too far away to see; it was like an ocean. I even took a short nap and missed the expedition leader's English language talk on seals.

Dinner was another excellent meal. We had pureed vegetable soup or beef consomme, followed by beef carpaccio, Caesar salad, or lobster risotto in mussel reduction as appetizers; with cod, pork tenderloin in beer sauce, or a vegetarian couscous as the main course. I had the consomme (soups have all been good; maybe it's the coolish weather), carpaccio (one of my favorite appetizers), and the pork. I had the "after 8" mint ice cream for dessert, as did most of our table.

The theater was showing the movie "Endurance" (English with French subtitles) about the English explorer Shackleton and his crew who were stuck in Antarctica, and there was a pianist in the lounge. Then it was time for bed.

We would be sailing the next morning, arriving in Tadoussac about 1 pm. Went whale watching in the afternoon.

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12 of 15

Day 8 - Tadoussac, Quebec

Fin whales in the St. Lawrence River near Tadoussac, Quebec
Fin Whales (c) Linda Garrison

The next morning on Le Boreal I awoke to a dense fog bank. You couldn't even see the water from my fifth deck cabin. Fortunately, the fog lifted, and we ended up with a gorgeous day--calm, sunny, and warm. While we were sailing, I attended Sophie's lecture on Jacques Cartier. I learned so much about the settlement of Quebec on this voyage.

A couple of takeaways about Quebec history--the French honor Cartier as an explorer and Champlain as a colonizer. Cartier was continually searching for the route to China, a land he could claim for the King of France, or gold and precious stones. On his last voyage to New France (1541-1543), he got one of the Amerindians (a new term I have picked up from the French) to show him where they had gold and diamonds. He excitedly took some back to France, only to find he had picked up fool's gold and quartz. Even today in France they have a saying that something suspiciously bogus is "as fake as Canadian diamonds". Champlain was interested in colonizing the new world and in making trading deals with the Amerindians. Interesting perspective on the two pioneers.

Le Boreal arrived in Tadoussac, which sits at the point where the Saguenay fjord joins with the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. Ours was the first cruise ship to visit Tadoussac this year. We had a slew of volunteer greeters--I think about one-fourth of the 850 residents of the small town. Tourism is king in Tadoussac. This little town gets 400,000 visitors per year! It's in a lovely setting and has a gorgeous 4-star hotel (the Hotel Tadoussac), which I only saw the outside. Some folks went to dinner since we were in town until 11 pm and said it was marvelous. The town is listed in the Most Beautiful Bays in the World and the Most Beautiful Villages of Quebec. Tadoussac is 2.5-hour drive from Quebec City and about 6 hours from Montreal. There's only one highway, and you have to take a ferry across the fjord to reach the town and then head north further up the coast to Havre-Saint-Pierre and points north.

Most visitors to Tadoussac are French (or Quebecois), with less than 20 percent American. It's a good place for those who love nature, history, or different cultures. Bird watching is especially popular when the birds are migrating (September and early spring). Whale watching seems to be the number one activity for tourists, and it's no wonder since there are 13 types of whales living in the St. Lawrence, and many frequent the area around the Saguenay fjord. There's also bear watching at "Domaines des Ancetres", which is a lodge, animal orphanage, and black bear observation center.

Le Boreal had three afternoon tours--a walk around the town on foot with a guide, bear watching, or whale watching. I chose the whale watching, which left right after lunch, and it was an excellent choice. Much of the time walking around town was spent at the Greve Gardens, which featured local vegetation; the Chauvin trading post, a recreation of the first fur trading post in Canada in 1599; a stop at the Tadoussac Hotel for tea; finishing with a visit to the oldest wooden church in North America named the Tadoussac Chapel or the Indians' Chapel. The bear watchers toured the bear orphanage and spent time watching one bear, which was pretty far away.

We left the ship and walked to the GREMM center of interpretation, a whale research/education center. We stayed there about 45 minutes before donning our "personal floating suit", which was water-resistant overalls (like ski ones) and a jacket. According to our Zodiac driver, you can only live in the water of the St. Lawrence about ten minutes without a suit; the suit extends your life a whole additional five minutes!

It was very warm when we donned our gear, but when we got in the two boats (about 25 in each, so we seven English-speakers were mixed in with the French) and started to ride, I was glad I had my layers on, along with my gloves and adorable lime green/black stocking cap. The river was almost dead calm, which made the ride much more enjoyable and the whale watching easier. We first saw a few minkes feeding in the river, but then the guide got a call that a group of fin whales, the world's second largest species, (only blue whales are bigger) were seen about 30 minutes away. So, we took off after them. They entertained us for an hour. These whales don't breach or bubble-feed like the humpbacks, but they "blow" about 12-feet up. We could see their back fins clearly several times and we estimated about 4-6 different ones.

After a while, we went looking for belugas, which stay year-round in the area. (Most of the other whales only summer here). Unfortunately, we didn't see any, but we got a good look at more minkes and many gray seals who kept popping up.

We had a fun three hours, although we were cramped in the whale watching boat. The driver did let us stand when he was stopped or moving slowly in the river. At the end of our adventure, we rode up the Saguenay fjord, where the rocky granite cliffs equal the depth of the water--both are about 900 feet. The fjord looked like those I have seen in Alaska and Norway--steep granite cliffs, clear deep water, and lots of evergreens.

It was almost dark when we got back to the ship, and we had a nice dinner. I had ginger Chinese soup, grapefruit/lettuce salad citrus dressing, halibut, and strawberry/vanilla ice cream. Some people had escargot, a traditional French appetizer. We had to laugh a little that the menu spelled snails "snells". Why just not call them escargot? It was another nice dinner, despite the spelling error. The show was a good one--"Oh La La Paris", filled with French music and dancing. The finale was (of course) a rollicking can-can. This entertainment team is very cute and very enthusiastic.

I was in bed by 11:30--not good since I had a 7:30 am hiking tour the next day in Saguenay. The ship sails way up the Saguenay fjord during the night, and we arrived about 6:30 am.

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13 of 15

Day 9 - Saguenay, Quebec

Hiking in the Saguenay National Park in Quebec
Saguenay National Park (c) Linda Garrison

I was up about 6 am, just as Le Boreal arrived in Saguenay, Quebec, way up the fjord from the St. Lawrence River. It was another perfect sunny September day--in the high 50's in the morning, going up to the 70's in the afternoon. I had two tours scheduled. The first was a hike in the Saguenay National Park in the morning, and the second was the cultural show " La Fabuleuse" in the afternoon.

After my usual breakfast of fruit, yogurt, and scrambled egg, I left the ship for the bus. I couldn't believe all the characters in the welcoming party on the pier. I thought the Tadoussac party was fun, but this one was amazing. Dozens of citizens in costumes from "old" Saguenay and the "La Fabuleuse" historical and cultural show were entertaining guests as they left the ship. Although I had just brushed my teeth, I couldn't resist the maple syrup rolled in ice to make it hard or the hot blueberry pie. I also sawed a log with a lumberjack and had my photo made. I love it when the townspeople love cruise ship guests (and not just their money).

I boarded the bus at 7:45 to find that I was the only English-speaking person on the hiking tour, with about 15 French. So, I had my own private guide, Claude, who was a native of Saguenay, knowledgeable about the area, and spoke very good English. We sat in the two back seats across the aisles from each other on a school bus used for the hiking tour so that he could speak to me while the French speaking guide was addressing the rest of the bus.

We chatted as we rode the 45 minutes to Eternity Bay at the Saguenay National Park. Our ship had traveled through parts of the park on Friday night on the way from Tadoussac to Saguenay. I learned that Saguenay is the only part of Quebec with its own official flag and other interesting facts about the town and region. We passed by clumps of brilliant autumnal colors of yellow, orange, and red, but much of the forest was still green or just changing colors. October 1 should be about perfect, although I am sure the timing varies somewhat each year.

We arrived at Eternity Bay by 8:30 and hiked on the "Sentier de la Statue" trail about 3.2 km (about 1.5 miles round trip) along (and mostly up) to Halte Bellevue, which provided a great view of the bay and rocks surrounding the fjord. The hike went up about 500 feet, so it was plenty strenuous for me. If we had continued another mile up the trail, we would have reached the statue of the Virgin Mary, which sits on top of the mountain. This statue was built in the late 1800's by a man whose horse cart fell through the ice of the river. He promised the Virgin Mary that if she saved him, he would build her a great monument. He lived, but his horse died (evidently the horse didn't pray hard enough). So, although he only had $200, he managed to raise enough additional money to erect this huge Statue de NotreDame-du-Saguenay.

About half of our group didn't want to hear the interpretation of the local guide, so they just hiked without stopping. The other six of us stayed with the local park ranger, who stopped occasionally and gave us information on the geology, plants, or animals in the park. Having worked at the park for 17 years, he was quite knowledgeable. The park ranger also spoke English, so I could question both him and my guide. The view from the turn-around point was worth the hike.

We arrived back at the park headquarters at about 10:50 and shortly thereafter rode back to the ship in time for lunch. It was another good buffet, and I was back on the bus by 1:00 for the short ride to the 2300-seat Municipal Palace Theater. I had a lot of trepidation when I signed up for "La Fabuleuse", a cultural show on a huge stage that stars 108 volunteers in the off-season and over 200 in the summer. I was so afraid it would be hokey, but it was wonderful--one of the best shows I've ever seen, and it was all in French!

The volunteer troupe (citizens of Saguenay) often work on the show for years, some with their whole families. "La Fabuleuse" has been going on for 24 years, and one man has participated every year. The age range is 4 years to 88 years old. The show re-lives the history of Saguenay, starting with the discovery by Jacques Cartier, the colonization by Samuel Champlain, the Great Fire of 1870, the Flood of 1996, and a whole bunch of other scenes throughout the past 400+ years. The show was modified after the Great Flood of 1996 to include that important tragedy in the city's history. Even Elvis makes an appearance in the story. The actors dance, but only lip sync the material or mouth the words to the recorded track. I counted 6 horses on the stage one time, along with 2 chickens, a pig, and a flock of geese. They do the show 36 times per year (24 in the summer months; 12 otherwise), with all but 4 of the shows in English since Saguenay had 15 cruise ship visits this year and 28 in 2012. Saguenay gets the large cruise ship traffic since it has converted the dock at a closed paper mill into a cruise ship dock.

We got a script with the scenes in English, but I never looked at it. We could get the gist by just watching the action, and I didn't want to miss anything on the stage while checking out my script. At one point--World War II--soldiers dropped from the ceiling of the theater on ropes at the same time bombs were exploding on the stage. I jumped so high that the guy sitting next to me dropped his water bottle and it went rolling down the aisle of the large theater. I was worried that one of the soldiers would slip on it, but none did. Very exciting!

The finale had participants from all the years, so some were dressed in Amerindian wear, and others from every century and almost every decade of the 1900's. At one point Elvis stood next to Cartier in the finale, which even had indoor fireworks at the climax. Very impressive. If you are ever in Saguenay, be sure to take in this show.

Back at the ship, I got cleaned up for drinks and dinner. We had the Captain's farewell drink and another nice meal. We had a famous Quebecois woman singer on board, so I went to the show and stood in the back, but decided to leave. She wasn't much better (in my opinion) that the cute lounge singers on board.

The next day Le Boreal was in Quebec City, our last full day on the ship.

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14 of 15

Day 10 - Quebec City

The Frontenac Hotel is the best-known symbol of Quebec City
Quebec City (c) Linda Garrison

The next day was our last full day on the cruise, and (as usual), was both a sad and happy day. I am always ready to go home, but sad to miss out on the interesting ports of call ahead and the fascinating people I always meet along the way. Our last port of call was a great one-- Quebec City.

Le Boreal docked right next to the Crown Princess (3700 passengers), and after being spoiled with no other ships around in our ports, it was kind of weird. I had an early morning (8:15) walking tour of Quebec City, and this time it was only me with the one German couple on board. He spoke French, she didn't, but they both spoke English, so they always came on our English tours. We walked all over the old city with our guide Jacques, moving quickly since there were only four of us. Most of the other tours hadn't started, so we were almost alone on this early Sunday morning in Quebec City.

I had visited Quebec City for a half day back in the last century, and the city was as charming as I remembered. It's funny to me that the symbol of this very old city is a hotel built by the Canadian Pacific Railroad in the late 1800's. The Frontenac Hotel sits where the old fort was and is certainly the icon most of us associate with the town.

Our small group of four rode the funicular up to the top of the old town of Quebec City and after touring it had about 30 minutes free time before walking back to the ship. I enjoyed browsing on a narrow street filled with local artists' work and seeing the Notre Dame Cathedral. Good tour. I got back to the ship about 12:15 and had lunch, which was a creamy asparagus soup, risotto with shrimp, and a chocolate mousse with some type of pastry.

Le Boreal wasn't sailing until 7:00 pm, and we had all aboard at 6:30. My cabin was on the dockside, and it was a lot of fun watching the people stroll past both ships. The temperature was the warmest we had seen -- I think about 80. Like all of the St. Lawrence River up to Montreal, the tides run 15-20 feet in Quebec City. My cabin sank towards the dock as the tide went out. By the time we left, I could have almost stepped from the deck 5 cabin to the bank.

After a late lunch, almost everyone went back into town, but I read my book and sat on the balcony and watched the world go by on the cruise ship pier.

Dinner was good, but not as good as most nights. Maybe after ten days of good food, I was just burned out. I had the consomme (other soup was creamed green peas), salad, salmon, and chocolate sundae.

After dinner, I picked up my passport, checked over my bill, and packed, all ready to disembark in Montreal the next morning.

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15 of 15

Montreal - Disembarkation from Le Boreal

Downtown Montreal, Quebec
Montreal (c) Linda Garrison

Le Boreal sailed into Montreal the next morning, and we had terrific views of the city in the early morning sunshine. The passengers had to have their bags outside the cabins by 7 am, which is certainly better than the night before as most big ships require. Another plus for small ship cruising.

Although I don't consider myself a Francophile, I had a marvelous time on Le Boreal. I love small ship cruising because of the diverse itineraries and opportunities to meet so many people. However, this cruise line certainly wouldn't be for everyone, especially English-speaking couples who might be shy or intimidated by being in the minority. English-speaking travelers who definitely would enjoy Le Boreal and other Ponant ships include active travelers who love (1) exotic destinations, (2) all things French, and (3) a small ship experience. Anyone who might be a little leery of being in the minority might consider getting another couple or a group of friends to travel together. That would ensure English-speaking companions at meals and on shore excursions. Or, you might just take French lessons before your cruise!

As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary cruise accommodation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.

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